January 13, 2012, 4:33 PM — Given the choice, who would you rather see prosecuted: WikiLeaker Bradley Manning, or the four Marines who became famous this week for urinating on dead Taliban?
Manning – accused of an amazingly high-volume bit of data theft that embarrassed both the military and the State Department – was recommended for a court martial yesterday. Given the visibility of the crime, seriousness of the material that was stolen and what appears to be a substantial amount of evidence against him, it would be shocking if Manning isn't convicted, let alone tried.
The P****ng Marines, on the other hand, are accused of graphically expressing their disdain for a number of Taliban fighters who were far beyond the point of knowing or caring about the Marines' opinion.
Manning, allegedly, struck a mighty blow for open-government, the rights of prisoners and the practical politics of the U.S. in tolerating the torture, murder and incarceration without trial of people suspected of being terrorists, but who will never get a trial that would help everyone be sure.
The P****ng Marines are accused not of striking a blow, but certainly of making a mark, one that could cause even more political and military problems for the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Given the level of outrage that arose in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the rest of the Middle East, there's a good chance they'll be charged and possibly court martialed.
Even though they haven't committed a crime.
So the question becomes, is it worse to release information with disturbing revelations about your country's involvement in the torture of foreign prisoners, drone attacks where drones weren't supposed to fly and the overly loose rules of engagement under which at least one U.S. helicopter massacred a group of noncombatants in Baghdad?
Or is it worse to fight the enemy where you find him, as you've been trained, transported and ordered to do, then celebrate your own survival and mitigate your guilt by demonstrating your win by urinating on the dead bodies of your enemy?
Oddities of military justice
The whole comparison is a bit of a trick question.
In the civilian world peeing on a dead body is unquestionably rude, but would break specific laws only in places with laws designed to preserve the dignity of the remains of the dead.